Sark's spectacular stargazing

The tiny island in the English Channel has become the world's first dark-sky island
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Image credit: Phillip Capper/Flickr
 

The tiny island of Sark in the English Channel has become the world’s first dark sky island.

The smallest of the four main Channel Islands been recognised for its exceptionally dark skies by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a US organisation whose mission is to preserve that darkest sites on the planet.

The skies above Sark offer unspoilt observing since they’re not light polluted in the same way as they are above town and cities.

They are free of the orange glow, through which only the brightest stars are visible.

The island has no public streetlights, little floodlighting, no paved roads and a ban on cars; the only motor vehicles allowed are tractors.

As a result, the Milky Way is a regular night-time feature (pictured left), while stars and constellations are visible from the moment they rise above the skyline.

“This is an ideal opportunity to bring stargazers to the island throughout the year, and I think that Sark is about to see a boom in astro-tourism, especially in the winter months,” said Steve Owens, the astronomer who led the island’s application to the IDA.

To gain the award, officials measured light levels at night and visited all the external lights on the 5.5 sq km island.

Many of the islands 600 inhabitants changed their lighting to make sure as little as possible would spill upwards, so it wouldn’t drown out faint starlight.

Sark is usually reached by ferry from neighbouring Jersey or Guernsey, which are serviced by regular flights from the UK.

As a place for spectacular stargazing, the island joins other dark-sky communities recognised by the IDA, such as Flagstaff, Arizona and Borrego Springs, California, plus uninhabited dark-sky sites like Galloway Forest Park, Scotland and Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

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